Lunch Box Picks for People (Big and Small) and the Planet

by Sarah Henry on August 31, 2010 · 26 comments

in great schools site,school food

When an editor from the website Great Schools got in touch about a back-to-school story on cool, green lunch tools for kids I hesitated about taking the assignment.

I’m not typically your go-to-gal for product pieces. Just not my area of interest.  And, besides, I’m the sort of person that still believes in buying a watch or camera or whatever for life, even though few consumer goods are built to last these days.

My kid’s school backpack saw him through kindergarten until 5th grade, when all the zippers were broken and it was getting a little small for the big kid books he needed to lug. Likewise, we’d happened upon Laptop Lunches and he’d been happily using this Bento box like-system to take his lunch to school for six years. We weren’t really in the market for something new. (Though I did have my eye on a Tiffin Tin.)

But, truth be told, only a week or so prior I had sent out a tweet asking people if they had ideas for lunch box ideas for the middle school years. Just curious. Since I’d done no research in this arena, I wondered what had sprung up in the past seven years or so.

Lots of good looking and good for you — and the environment — options, it turns out. These planet friendly picks are made of recycled, nontoxic materials — we’re talking no BPA, PVC, phthalates, or lead.

During the course of my research I discovered that many of these eco-chic lunch carriers are designed by (mostly) moms (though a dad or two, as well) who wanted to pack lunch for their kids but didn’t want to add to the landfill waste stream. So you may never need to buy plastic wrap, waxed baggies, tinfoil, or paper bags again. And that’s a good thing: Every day in the United States, an estimated 20 million lunch bags end up in the trash. Yowzer.

And, as you’ll see, there’s a system to suit all budgets.

Now there’s a consumer good I can get behind.

Since it’s back-to-school time for many of us (my boy heads to — gulp! — middle school tomorrow), I thought readers might like to see what options are out there. You can find the story at Great Schools by clicking here.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. If you have a favorite product that isn’t in the mix, let me know. If you have a history with a product profiled (good or bad) please share. I think all of us who pack lunch are just trying to get something nourishing to eat into hungry hands in the simplest, greenest, most efficient, and mess-free way possible.

Speaking of which, if you want tips on what to put in your child’s lunch box, check out my post on that subject from last year: Beyond the Brown Bag Blues a.k.a Taking the Stress Out of School Lunch.

More on school lunch coming over the next couple of weeks.

[Thanks to Michelle @ What's Cooking for her tips for this article.]

[Photo courtesy: 3greenmoms lunchskins]

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Alexandra August 31, 2010 at 10:55 am

I’m so glad to know such things as (eco-chic) lunch carriers exist. Sounds like a great gift/investment for my granddaughter who will head to school next year.
Alexandra´s last [type] ..Who Will Be Cape Cod’s Next State Senator


Sarah Henry August 31, 2010 at 8:38 pm

You’ll be all prepared for when that preschooler granddaughter of yours makes the move to big school, Sandy.


MarthaAndMe August 31, 2010 at 10:55 am

There’s something about lunch packed in a cute container that makes it just taste better. Heck, I want some of these and I work at home!


Sarah Henry August 31, 2010 at 8:38 pm



erin August 31, 2010 at 11:08 am

Love Lunchskins! Bye bye baggies!


Sarah Henry August 31, 2010 at 9:03 pm

Hi Erin, Good to know Lunchskins (featured in the photo) are just the trick for carrying lunch.


Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi August 31, 2010 at 11:10 am

I’ve so been wanting a tiffin tin for a while. I work from home, so I don’t need one and haven’t bought one, but they are so COOL. If you don’t know the word tiffin, it has an interesting history.
Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi´s last [type] ..The Big Winner


Sarah Henry August 31, 2010 at 8:39 pm

hey melanie, thanks for the tiffin tin link. i’m intrigued by these tidy stainless steel towers too.


Jane Boursaw August 31, 2010 at 11:25 am

I’ve been seeing similar lunchboxes around Traverse City and love them. Almost makes me wish I had a job outside the house (but not really) so I could use one.

Lunchboxes have come a looonnnngggg ways from those vintage metal boxes sporting The Lone Ranger and Lassie images. Totally dating myself here.
Jane Boursaw´s last [type] ..Review- The Happy Poet


Sarah Henry August 31, 2010 at 8:40 pm

Yes, and there’s really no reason why any parent should find themselves being bullied to buy some hideous plastic Disney-product placement box with the range of options out there these days.


MyKidsEatSquid August 31, 2010 at 3:53 pm

My 7th grader took a tiffin box to school with her on her first day last week. She loved it. We’ve had bento boxes before, but now we can go back and forth.


Sarah Henry August 31, 2010 at 8:40 pm

A real, live, report from the tiffin tin trenches. Love it.


The Writer's [Inner] Journey September 1, 2010 at 9:44 am

I’m always on the lookout for a cute and funky tote – those look great. I admit to still having my original METAL lunchboxes from grammar school (I keep them in my bookcase!)…”Have Lunch With Snoopy” and “The Walt Disney School Bus Lunchbox”…and they are so cute!
The Writer’s [Inner] Journey´s last [type] ..Kathryn Chetkovich writes eloquently about a very uneloquent subject- Envy


amee September 1, 2010 at 10:01 am

i like the Zorijushi (4-tiered) bento box for my lunch. it’s awesome!
amee´s last [type] ..Gordon Ramseys Great Escape- A Culinary Adventure Through India!


amee September 1, 2010 at 10:04 am
Sarah Henry September 1, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Hi Amee,

Thanks for sharing a fav lunch carrier (and for passing on the correct link). This Bento box looks a little large (and maybe a bit exxy) for school use, but I love the idea of it. If only I didn’t work from home I’d have all these cool, new tools to last me a lifetime.


Delishhh September 1, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Just stumbled across your site. Very nice. You have a new follower.
Delishhh´s last [type] ..The Best Minestrone


Sarah Henry September 1, 2010 at 9:51 pm

Welcome Delishh, glad you stumbled upon Lettuce Eat Kale, feel free to stick around.


Alisa Bowman September 2, 2010 at 9:04 am

I had this moment a week ago when I was telling my daughter about brown bag lunches and soup being sipped from a big thermos. Suddenly it seemed as if I was telling her about walking barefoot to school uphill in the snow. It was a weird moment.
Alisa Bowman´s last [type] ..How to Deal with Control Issues


Sarah Henry September 2, 2010 at 10:38 am

You’re funny, Alisa. Seems like in the food world these days, everything old (canning, jamming, cooking from scratch) is new again.


Jennifer Margulis September 2, 2010 at 10:41 am

We used Laptop lunches bento box last year and loved it for my son BUT it’s made of PLASTIC. We left it somewhere in NYC by mistake. I’m NOT getting the same one again. I want to find a NON-plastic alternative. We’ve also tried tiffen boxes. Not our favorite either. What to do, what to do…
Jennifer Margulis´s last [type] ..Read Beth Terry’s Recap of BlogHer2010


Sarah Henry September 2, 2010 at 11:10 am

Cloth? Check out the link to my story, where you’ll find options from nine companies, several of the offerings are of the non-plastic variety.


Jane Boursaw September 2, 2010 at 2:15 pm


Sarah – I do wonder if folks are returning to tried and true methods, not just with food, but everything. This summer, I’ve gone to a cash-only system of finances, because I’ve just HAD IT with all the crap involved with credit cards, bank accounts, online this and that… It takes a little more time to pay bills, but it’s really been an interesting experiment, and one I plan to stick with.

Of course, companies aren’t really set up to work with cash-only. Our local electric company – Consumer Energy – has lobby/drive-in window hours every Monday and Friday from noon to four. That’s Monday AND Friday, not Monday THROUGH Friday. And it takes a little more planning to get money orders from banks or the post office, then mail them out.

It also makes me think – with this system – how much easier it is to stay local, rather than going with some big company that doesn’t have a local office where you can pay bills – including the awful and horrible Bank of America, which is where my mortgage is right now. I’ll stop here before I leap into wild rant mode on that HORRIBLE company, but let’s just say that at the earliest possible opportunity, I’m bringing my mortgage back to a local company, one that can guarantee it’ll never be sold to some HORRIBLE company like Bank of America. Ok, too late, I’m ranting now.
Jane Boursaw´s last [type] ..Mystery Science Theater 3000- Vol XIX out Nov 9- 2010 – Includes Gypsy Figurine!


Sarah Henry September 12, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Tried and true methods — like a cloth lunch sack — have a place, it seems to me. As for your rant, Jane, I’m sure lots of folks can relate.


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